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The steps you need to take following the death of a loved one

Sarah Browne, from Nockolds' wills and probate team in Market Square, Bishop's Stortford, gives advice on the initial steps you need to take following the death of a loved one...

The death of a relative is an upsetting time and it can be difficult to know what needs to be done. There are some initial steps you need to take fairly quickly, including registering the death and to begin arranging the funeral.

Currently, register offices are holding telephone appointments due to lockdown restrictions, so you don't need to attend in person to register a death.

If the person lived alone, it may be necessary to check that their home is secure and notify the house insurance company that the property is unoccupied. This is usually done by the person's family or next of kin but can be done by their executor if there is no immediate family able to do it.

It will then be necessary to ascertain whether the person who died had a will and, if so, who they appointed as their executor to deal with the estate. If there is no will then the people who will inherit the estate and are responsible for administering the assets are determined by the intestacy laws. We can advise you on this and on the meaning of the will if necessary.

Once the death has been registered, the register office will issue death certificates which will be required in order to obtain information about the investments. We can provide a helpful checklist of what assets to look for when sorting through the deceased person's paperwork. You may wish to wait until after the funeral to do this.

Sarah Browne from Nockolds' wills and probate team (44249297)
Sarah Browne from Nockolds' wills and probate team (44249297)

It is likely that you will be given details of the Government's Tell Us Once service when you register the death. This is a useful website or telephone service that will enable you to notify all government agencies such as any state pension, passport, council tax, driver's licence and HMRC at the same time.

Any bank accounts held in joint names will not be frozen but will transfer automatically to the surviving owner when the bank receives a copy of the death certificate. Any sole investments may require a grant of probate before they will pay out money to the executor, and we can assist you in obtaining this.

Even if a bank account is frozen, the bank will release money to pay the funeral invoice if there is sufficient money for this in the account, and so relatives don't need to worry about paying for this from their own funds.

In order to obtain probate, the executors need to send an account to the court showing what the person's assets were and so it will be necessary to ascertain the value of any assets as at the date the person died. It may be that inheritance tax is payable by the estate, if so, this will be dealt with as part of the process of applying for probate.

If the person who died owned a house in their sole name, a grant of probate will be needed to sell this. The property can be marketed for sale at any stage, but the executors cannot exchange contracts until they have obtained probate. This usually takes a few months to obtain so it is sensible to take advice on likely timescales before taking any action.

Whilst this is a guideline of steps you may need to take, each person's circumstances are different so please do get in touch with us by calling our wills and probate team on 01279 755777 if you would like any guidance in relation to an estate.

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